GNcareers, from Gulf News

Employee packages, benefits don't match up expat expectations

Employee packages, benefits don't match up expat expectationsImage Credit: Supplied

Employers in the UAE and other parts of the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region need to review their expatriate packages and benefits to meet expectations of foreigners moving overseas, a new survey suggests.

The 2015 Global Mobility Trends Survey, which polled more than 2,700 expatriates working in 156 countries, showed that employee expectations are sometimes not met, especially in the areas of repatriation, communication, and language and cultural awareness.

The findings suggest that employers need to do more to help expats prepare themselves culturally and ease their transition into working in the Middle East, as well as communicate with them more frequently.

Nevertheless, the Mena region, especially the UAE, is still considered a ''highly desirable'' expat destination, with many companies being credited for providing ''adequate'' healthcare and relocation assistance to their staff.

The study carried out by Cigna Global Health Benefits and the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC), seeks to gather insights into the needs of the globally mobile population, better understand what they and their families value and how they perceive the benefit packages and programmes offered to them.

Areas of dissatisfaction

Among the respondents in Mena, only a quarter (25 per cent) said they had received language training prior to moving to another country, while a third (34 per cent) said they had undergone cross-cultural training. About 8 per cent thought that employers could also extend support to expats' families by providing them cultural and language training.

''There is an obvious gap for employers seeking to ease the transition for foreign nationals into the Middle East work environment where sensitivity to local customs and traditions can have a profound impact on business relationships,'' said Howard Gough, Mena chief executive officer of Cigna Global Health Benefits and CEO for Cigna's Global Individual Private Medical Insurance (IPMI).

''Helping expats appreciate the region's various cultural nuances also adds to the overall experience of working abroad.''

Providing repatriation to their staff is another ''weak spot'' for companies in the region. Only a small proportion (one-third) of the expats said their employer was ''good'' at meeting the needs of staff upon their return from an assignment, while a tenth (11 per cent) said they were ''very good''.

''Many expats recommended beginning repatriation arrangements at least three months before departure,'' Gough said.

Expats in the region also feel that employers need to better communicate with their staff prior to and during their deployment.

More than 40 per cent of the respondents felt that their company did a ''good job'' at communicating with them, but only 18 per cent described the exchange as ''very good''. A fifth said communications need to be more frequent and personal.

More than half (55 per cent) received annual communications concerning their ''global mobility benefits programme prior to current assignment'' and only 16 per cent received communications quarterly.

Nearly a quarter (24 per cent) believed that more frequent communication and more personalization was needed to optimize the way their employers communicated programme features and services before and during assignment. Many believed that more follow-ups during assignment and periodic updates of changes in benefits programs was required.

''Many respondents said they wanted more reliable and consistent communication from employers to prepare them for assignments before they depart and assurance that they will be supported and connected during mobility,'' Gough told Gulf News.

Positive points

The upside to working for Mena companies, however, is that employers ''generally perform well'' when helping staff move to the region.

According to the study, more than 70 per cent were given ''adequate medical preparedness'', including access to healthcare plans that covered dependents and international medical assistance.

The majority (66 per cent) also received ''general relocation services'', while 61 per cent reported that there was ''active communication with host location management and staff.''

''Far from being the ‘hardship' posting as it once was, the Middle East, and in particular the commercial hub of the UAE, is a highly desirable location for expats seeking a new career challenge. Wins like the Expo 2020 for the UAE have further improved the country's reputation as a growth market increasing employment and bringing talent into the market,'' said Nagib M. BAhous, executive director of Damana, a multiline insurance company.

Gough said expats' expectations have also been met in terms of helping them move overseas. ''More than three-quarters of respondents said their employer provides help with moving household goods and other settling-in services, as well as help with finding appropriate medical care,'' he said.

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